Travel Tales: Celebrating 10 Years of Boundless Stories
We believe that travel has power: to connect us across borders and boundaries; to challenge and change us; and to offer us a new perspective, even in the places we call home. We believe stories have that power, too. To celebrate AFAR’s tenth anniversary this summer, we’ve brought together our favorite longreads from the last decade. We hope these pieces remind you of how transformative it can be to step outside of the familiar—and inspire you to hit the road. —AFAR Editors
The Incredibly True Story of Renting a Friend in Tokyo
What it’s about: When he found himself flying solo in Tokyo, contributing writer Chris Colin did as the locals do: He rented a friend. Read the full story.
Why we love it: “It could have been a shallow piece. At first glance, the idea of renting a friend in Tokyo could seem merely ‘like more Japanese wackiness.’ Not in Chris Colin’s hands. Over ginger pork and curry, as he gets to know each of his Japanese ‘friends,’ Chris touches on something wonderfully human beneath the seeming wackiness. His story reveals why such a service needs to exist at all: Bound by a culture that places a high value on saving face, many Japanese struggle with loneliness, even when surrounded by friends. From there he goes universal, reminding us that no matter our differences, we all want the same things: to be heard and understood—and to feel we have a friend in the world.” —Aislyn Greene, AFAR senior editor
This appeared as “Pay Pal” in AFAR’s March/April 2016 issue.
In Queens, the American Dream Is a Technicolor Celebration
What it’s about: Writer Anya von Bremzen dove deep into one of the most ethnically diverse places on Earth—New York City’s borough of Queens—and learned that within the multicultural mix, there’s always something to celebrate. Read the full story.
Why we love it: “In this story (as in all her stories really), Anya von Bremzen brings a sense of humor and sincere curiosity to a place and lets the reader right in with her. What makes this feature—which was part of our first issue to focus only on the United States—even more special to me was that she brings those qualities to a place she has been living in for decades. And sometimes recovering feelings of magic and hope in our own backyard or home country is the most important trip we can take.” —Sara Button, AFAR assistant editor
This appeared as “This Is New York” in AFAR’s March/April 2019 issue.
A Literary Trip to Lisbon Is the Best Way to Uncover Portugal’s Hidden Beauty
What it’s about: In Portugal, novelist Charmaine Craig searched for the ghost of her hero, went on a high-speed chase for delicious pork, and pondered the mystery of a writer’s trunk. Read the full story.
Why we love it: “When Charmaine agreed to take on a Spin the Globe assignment for AFAR, our editorial team didn’t know about her deep appreciation for the early 20th-century Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, and she had no idea that we’d eventually be sending her to Portugal. And yet—as her essay bears out—the random selection of Lisbon seemed meant to be. Her trip includes several encounters with not-so-random strangers, who, like Jenga pieces, bring her closer to the memory and mystery of her literary hero. This piece is quiet and moody and it sticks with you long after you’ve finished reading.” —Julia Cosgrove, AFAR editor in chief
This appeared as “In Pursuit of Portugal” in AFAR’s November/December 2018 issue.
How to See the Morocco Most Tourists Don’t
What it’s about: On an epic bike trip through the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara Desert, photographer Peter Bohler and writer Celia Hoffman learned when to say yes to adventure. Read the full story.
Why we love it: “I love how these newlyweds make the best out of every situation. Their intrepid outlook, willingness to accept the kindness of strangers, and enthusiasm for new experiences are inspiring to adventurers and timid travelers alike.” —Nicole Antonio, AFAR managing editor
This appeared as “An Uphill Climb” in AFAR’s May/June 2018 issue.
Boy Meets World: Two Unlikely Hikers Tackle a Classic New Zealand Trek
What it’s about: Writer Chris Woolston embarked on the Routeburn Track on the South Island of New Zealand to find out if nature’s beauty could crack his 11-year-old son’s shell. Read the full story.
Why we love it: “Chris’s story is far from the first to be written about a conquering a trek in New Zealand. But until I read this piece—which details Chris’s experience of hiking a South Island trail with his young son, who has autism—I hadn’t ever seen the classic travel topic told from this perspective. I found this story to be particularly moving, not only because of the way Chris narrated his own experience of the adventure but also because of how he so gracefully illustrated the sometimes testing moments on the trail that ultimately strengthened Chris’s beliefs in what his son was capable of.” —Sarah Buder, AFAR assistant editor
This appeared as “Boy Meets World” in AFAR’s January/February 2014 issue.
A Blind Man’s Trip Will Change the Way You Think About Safaris
What it’s about: Ryan Knighton, a visually impaired traveler, journeyed through the wilds of Zimbabwe and discovered a side of the safari experience that very few know. Read the full story.
Why we love it: “Ryan’s story addressed a topic that’s been written about a lot—an African safari—and dealt with it in a completely fresh way. It not only showed how a blind person would experience a safari, it raised interesting questions about how we experience everything—about which senses we rely on and on what we miss by relying so heavily on sight. We were also fortunate that we were able to connect Ryan with a safari guide who embraced the challenge of bringing Zimbabwe to life for Ryan. It broadened my understanding of what it means to guide someone and made me realize how much a guide can shape a travel experience.” —Jeremy Saum, AFAR executive editor
This appeared as “Out of Sight” in AFAR’s July/August 2017 issue.
Key Change: How a Shifting Climate Is Transforming Florida
What it’s about: Writer Rahawa Haile grew up exploring Florida’s wilderness. Years later, she returned and pondered what happens when the places we love start to disappear. Read the full story.
Why we love it: “The specter of climate change now hovers over most of the planet, but few places are more haunted by the prospect than the Florida Keys. Rahawa Haile’s thoughtful piece examines the future for this ‘mixture of limestone and luck’ while revisiting her own childhood experiences in spots that simply don’t exist anymore. With lovely turns of phrase and frank assessments of the situation (reopened resorts post-storm are inspiring and masochistic), she captures what it’s like to visit a place seemingly living on borrowed time.” —Tim Chester, AFAR senior digital editor
This appeared as “Key Change” in AFAR’s March/April 2019 issue.
Learning to Understand the South, One Note at a Time
What it’s about: Bluegrass-obsessed British writer Emma John traveled to North Carolina to master the fiddle. Local jam sessions taught her a lot more than how to play a tune. Read the full story.
Why we love it: “I’ve probably read this story a dozen times—and it never fails to make me smile. The story was Emma’s first for AFAR—and what an introduction. She, a liberal Londoner and classical violinist, travels to North Carolina to plunge into the world of bluegrass. The resulting story is an honest, humane portrait of both the South and bluegrass, digging into Southern culture as well as the roots of bluegrass and its modern twists and turns. Her story is also a meditation on the kind of travel AFAR champions: Follow your passions, immerse yourself in an unfamiliar culture, and allow that experience to change and shape you. The story hums with her characteristic humor and warmth. By the end of the piece, as she finally grasps what it means to play bluegrass, you’re humming right along with her.” —Aislyn Greene, AFAR senior editor
This story appeared as “Playing by Heart” in AFAR’s July/August 2012 issue.
Is Amsterdam Really as Tolerant as It Seems?
What it’s about: For Spin the Globe, AFAR sent commentator Sally Kohn on a spontaneous trip to a city renowned for its coffee shops and progressive ideals—only to find that tolerance wasn’t as straightforward as she thought. Read the full story.
Why we love it: “Sally Kohn’s funny, thought-provoking romp through Amsterdam made me see the Netherlands in a new light. Like many Americans, I viewed Amsterdam as a bastion of liberal tolerance: bikes outnumber cars, same-sex marriage and prostitution are legal, and weed is plentiful if not technically legal. But, as Kohn observes, there are ‘shades of tolerance,’ even in the Netherlands. As she explores the city, she grapples with how such a progressive country could harbor anti-Muslim sentiments and a holiday tradition of blackface minstrels. You’ll gasp, you’ll certainly laugh, you’ll probably crave some cheese.” —Aislyn Greene, AFAR senior editor
This appeared as “Round and Round We Go” in AFAR’s June/July 2015 issue.
She Came, She Saw, She Told Jokes: A Comic’s Last-Minute Trip to Kansas City
What it’s about: AFAR sent New York comedian Negin Farsad on a Spin the Globe adventure into the heartland of the United States. Here’s how she got to know Kansas City with just 24 hours’ notice. Read the full story.
Why we love it: “While there is always an element of excitement about what kind of story will emerge from a spontaneous trip, when we sent Negin Farsad to Kansas City for AFAR’s Spin the Globe series, I admit I was extra curious about what she’d experience there. I appreciated that she was honest with readers up front about her own expectations about the place while also open-minded enough to go along for the ride as KC managed to dodge those preconceptions. Plus, the story is funny—and funny is hard to write.” —Sara Button, AFAR assistant editor
This appeared as “There’s No Place Like Kansas City” in AFAR’s March/April 2019 issue.
Why a Train Trip Across the U.S. Is the Fastest Way to Slow Down
What it’s about: Crossing the United States on Amtrak isn’t exactly time efficient. But as writer Eric Weiner discovered, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Read the full story.
Why we love it: “As a New Yorker, I need a reminder to slow down from time to time. This story does the trick every time I stress out about making my next deadline (or flight). As much as I want to rush off to a new destination every other week, this cross-country rail tale made me want to stop moving so fast, clear my schedule, and take it all in for once.” —Lyndsey Matthews, AFAR destination news editor
This appeared as “Along for the Ride” in AFAR’s March/April 2018 issue.
Can a Spiritual Quest to India Heal a Broken Heart?
What it’s about: After a string of personal losses, writer Lisa Abend ventured to Tamil Nadu seeking solace from her sorrows. It took two temples, a palm leaf astrologer, and the driver of a velour-lined taxi to make her feel whole again. Read the full story.
Why we love it: “Lisa Abend has a unique way of making her personal experiences seem intensely relatable. I was captivated by her emotional honesty in this piece, which, while specific to Abend’s life, holds moments of meaning that feel much more universal. This story reminds me of the pressures we often put on travel to improve our lives in one way or another—and how the lessons we ultimately learn on the road are usually ones we didn’t anticipate.” —Sarah Buder, AFAR assistant editor
This appeared as “Desperately Seeking Shiva” in AFAR’s September/October 2010 issue.
A San Francisco Chef Traces Her Malaysian Roots
What it’s about: Award-winning food writer Francis Lam explored the Malaysian island of Penang with chef Azalina Eusope as she revisited the inspiring street food flavors of the place she grew up. Read the full story.
Why we love it: “Francis was on an early list of dream writers we put together when AFAR launched. His work for the late, great Gourmet is still referenced in magazine writing workshops today and for good reason. We knew he would bring a deftness and a sensitivity to his telling of Azalina’s very personal tale. This is a food story, but it’s also a story of immigration, good fortune, misfortune, and regret. Thanks to Francis’s deft touch, the piece serves as a universal reminder that no matter how far we travel, our past eventually finds us.” —Julia Cosgrove, AFAR editor in chief
This appeared as “In Good Hands” in AFAR’s May/June 2017 issue.
A Journey to Antarctica Will Take You Beyond Belief
What it’s about: On an expedition cruise to the southern edge of the world, writer Chris Jones saw—and felt—why such a voyage could be so unforgettable. Read the full story.
Why we love it: “Chris Jones’ journey to Antarctica brings you straight into the heart of that mysterious and contradictory continent. There’s the thrill of killer whales and emperor penguins, of course, but also an exploration of the transgressive nature of the trip. Reading his story is like joining him as a visitor on another planet, and his writing gets to the otherworldly core of that inhospitable land. There’s the unbridled joy of discovery but also permanent fallout from a dip in subzero waters. Humans aren’t really meant for Antarctica, and that forbidden element is exactly what draws us there. Sign me up.” —Kate Sommers-Dawes, AFAR deputy digital editor
This appeared as “Beyond Belief” in AFAR’s August/September 2014 issue.
On a Horseback Trip Through Wyoming, a Mother-Daughter Duo Return to Their Roots
What it’s about: Hoping to get back in the saddle—and introduce her teenage daughter, Daisy, to part of her heritage—writer Peggy Orenstein headed straight for the Wyoming wilderness. Read the full story.
Why we love it: “Peggy Orenstein’s trip—where she channels her Jewish homesteading ancestors on horseback—speaks to the universal themes of tradition and family lore, but with her signature dose of lighthearted charm. I was transported to the cliffside trails and wildflower-filled meadows of the Teton mountains, while taking delight in the bond between mother and daughter, strengthened through their time in one of the most beautiful natural settings in the U.S.” —Jennifer Flowers, AFAR deputy editor
This appeared as “Saddle Up” in AFAR’s July/August 2019 issue.
Do You Really Have to Stop Traveling When You Have Kids?
What it’s about: She was born to travelers and born to travel. On her last trip before giving birth to her first child, writer Freda Moon reconnected with the origins of her wanderlust—her parents. Read the full story.
Why we love it: “As a newer mom with two small kids, this story’s headline resonated with me (of course), but its very personal narrative struck so many more chords than I even realized it would before digging in. What I loved most about this piece is the complicated relationship Freda Moon has with both her parents and with travel. There is a strong tendency to glorify both, but her forthcoming approach was remarkably refreshing. I also loved how she seamlessly wove in how different, culturally, it is to be a pregnant woman traveling in the U.S. versus abroad.” —Michelle Baran, AFAR travel news editor
This appeared as “Pregnant in Panama” in AFAR’s November/December 2015 issue.
Celebrating a Craft
The Secret Language of Istanbul’s Dream Weavers
What it’s about: In honor of his aunt Eleanor’s passing, the late Edward Readicker-Henderson flew to Istanbul on a quest for a special souvenir. As he discovered, threads of beauty, history, and memory make a Turkish carpet much more than that. Read the full story.
Why we love it: “Weaving his own family’s story with that of the ancient craft of carpet making, Edward Readicker-Henderson makes you laugh and sigh and see colors. Edward was a masterful storyteller—his writing is as deft as a whirling dervish, as clear and heartbreaking as the poems of Rumi, as good-natured and foxy as the rug merchants, and as timeless as the beauty of the rugs he finds in Turkey.” —Ann Shields, AFAR guides editor
This appeared as “Dream Weavers” in AFAR’s October 2015 issue.
Into the Vines
What it’s about: In a story that won a James Beard Foundation Journalism Award in 2015, chef Gabrielle Hamilton went to Sicily to meet the independent winemakers who bottle the flavors of the land. Read the full story.
Why we love it: “Between the great characters, glimpses into local life, and detailed descriptions of the landscape (especially describing the grapes as ‘Sophia Lorens’), this piece put me squarely in Sicily. Gabrielle also does a fantastic job of taking the typically intimidating subject of wine and making it feel relatable—familiar even. I also appreciate that when her travel doesn’t go exactly as planned (for example, when she can’t find the Occhipinti vineyard), she’s honest about it instead of trying to present a story about the perfect trip, which we all know never happens.” —Natalie Beauregard, AFAR guides editor
This appeared as “Into the Vines” in AFAR’s May 2014 issue.
Facing the Past
Finding Two Faces of Paradise in Post-War Sri Lanka
What it’s about: As part of AFAR’s Spin the Globe series, we sent writer Leslie Jamison to Sri Lanka with just 24 hours’ notice. Arriving with no preparation and no plan, she caught a ride to the war-torn north (five years after the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war). There, she found out what kind of traveler she truly is. Read the full story.
Why we love it: “Leslie’s story was one of the first Spin the Globe stories to question the very premise behind Spin the Globe. Who are we, as travelers, to just show up in a place and think we can understand it? That’s a challenging question, and Leslie wrestles with it head on. In trying her best to get to know Sri Lanka in the amount of time she had, she realized her limitations, which is an important perspective for all of us to have. As travelers, we should remain humble, always open to learning more, and we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking we understand a place after one trip. I was proud that we published a story that wasn’t afraid to deal with those doubts and questions.” —Jeremy Saum, AFAR executive editor
This appeared as “Two Faces of Paradise” in AFAR’s March/April 2015 issue.
Why a Trip to Rwanda Will Stay With You Long After You’ve Left
What it’s about: Writer Tom Rachman traveled to Rwanda to learn how the country, once divided by hatred, is showing the world how to heal. Read the full story.
Why we love it: “This story so sincerely illustrates connection—to nature, to time, to other humans, to devastation, to hope—that you can’t help but feel transformed by the end.” —Nicole Antonio, AFAR managing editor
This appeared as “Rwanda” in AFAR’s July/August 2018 issue.